Review: Mountain Stage at Memorial Auditorium

Posted on:

< < Back to

NPR’s Mountain Stage, a two-hour radio showcase of live, diverse music, made its annual trip to Templeton Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium in Athens, Ohio, on Sunday, Oct. 9.

Larry Groce, the host of the program, kicked off the evening’s festivities by thanking Athens for welcoming Mountain Stage once again.

The night’s first act was Irish acoustic duo Karen Casey and John Doyle. Casey’s light, yet rich, vocals blended beautifully with Doyle’s on several traditional Celtic folk ballads. However, Doyle’s real brilliance comes from his precise acoustic guitar picking. Groce, when introducing the pair, said that Doyle was “one of the best Celtic guitar players in the world.” It wasn’t an exaggeration.

The legendary Hot Tuna was next, with a mix of old and new songs, including a couple from their new album, Steady As She Goes. Frontman Jorma Kaukonen got laughs as he reminisced about playing at “sleazy bars” back in 1958 with his longtime muscial partner, bassist Jack Casady.

Todd Burge, a solo performer from Parkersburg, W.Va., was accompanied by the Mountain Stage Band. Burge also had the audience laughing as he performed a Christmas song documenting the Biblical Joseph and how “insecure he would feel about the whole (Jesus) situation.”

Athens-based group Southeast Engine was fourth on the bill. The band played songs from their latest record, Canary, which documents the struggles of a fictional depression-era coal mining family in Southeast Ohio. The songs and sounds of Canary seem to borrow heavily from The Band, from the simple and pleasing rhymes of the lyrics, to the instrumentation (particularly the organ) and frontman Adam Remnant’s vocal delivery (which at times eerily echoes that of Rick Danko).

Ha Ha Tonka, who borrow their name from a state park in Missouri, was the final band before The Jayhawks took the stage. Hailing from the Ozark Mountains, Ha Ha Tonka is a high-energy group that plays a diverse selection of music, reminiscent of Funeral-era Arcade Fire and Fleet Foxes, with driving kick drum stomps, mandolin melodies and four-part harmonies that brought the crowd to their feet.

The Jayhawks, the final act and headliners, played a mix of old classics as well as music from their latest album, Mockingbird Time. The group was well-received and tight as ever, despite a seven-year hiatus. Lead guitarist Gary Louris was especially impressive, with several exciting solos on his gleaming Gibson SG. Keyboardist Karen Grotberg was the glue that held the arrangements together, with beautiful runs on her Hammond organ. Drummer Tim O’Reagan took over vocal duties for the final tune, “Tampa To Tulsa,” which garnered thunderous applause from the audience.

To close the evening, Larry Groce gathered all of the artists back on stage to perform The Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.” While the audience sang and clapped, the performers passed solos back and forth on the loudest song of the night. It was a perfect way to end the show.

For more information about Mountain Stage, visit